Mayank Kumar: Lessons in starting up

Entrepreneurship is counterintuitive. Some real common business school learnings may not be best suited for entrepreneurship. Here, I share some of my learnings that I feel many aspiring entrepreneurs will find to be of value.

You never start up to get funded!
In today's day and age, funding is over-celebrated. Many aspiring entrepreneurs start with asking the question - will I get funded. After a round of funding, we send congratulatory messages. I think celebrating funding is like congratulating an athlete for buying new running shoes before the race has even started. An entrepreneur starts her journey to solve a pain point that she is really passionate about. Funding is just a means to achieve the end.

Know your 'One Customer' well
When you are starting up, it is important to be really clear in your mind about the 'one customer'. By really clear, I mean - you should know her name, where she lives or works, what she does everyday, etc. Live and breathe her life.

Your solution may solve the pain point of various customer segments. But it is important for you to have a razor sharp focus on the one customer. It has multiple benefits - from designing your product really well for that customer to designing the marketing campaign to reaching out to those customers. In the early stage, there is always this tendency to expand the definition of your customer segment so that you can reach out to a much larger customer base. But it requires a lot of discipline to stay focused. We designed our programme for working professionals, but we received a lot of interest from colleges as well as corporates. Despite that, we focused on targeting only working professionals - with the single agenda to wow them.

Go all out to wow your first set of customers
When you are starting up, you are low on resources with a limited marketing budget. The best people who will put the good word out for your venture and product is your 'satisfied customers'. Therefore, in the early days, it is important for entrepreneurs to focus on ensuring that your customers are happy using your product and are willing to recommend the same. In the process of doing this, you will end up doing things that maybe difficult to scale up.

However, you should focus on ensuring the best experience for your consumer and be smart enough to figure out how you will solve issues that may not be scalable initially. Try to get continuous feedback from your customers and keep improving your product.

Mayank Kumar is co-Founder & MD of UpGrad, an online education platform for working professionals

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